Grist for My Mill

When I accepted the job of part-time caregiver, I thought both women — the fulltime caregiver who interviewed me and the woman I would be caring for — were total strangers.

As we learned a couple of days ago, all three of us had attended the same function last year — Thanksgiving dinner at the senior center. I didn’t talk to either of these women at the time, though in retrospect, I remember the director of the center pointing them out and telling me who they were.

It seems odd that the two people I see most in my life now, who in some ways are the most significant, were so insignificant to my life back then, that I didn’t even remember the encounter. Admittedly, this is a small town, so such coincidences would not be uncommon, and yet, I do sometimes wonder how often two lives cross before the two people finally connect.

A lot of times when people meet, not just friends, but soon-to-be marriage partners, they trace their lives and find many points of intersection, and yet, they didn’t make the all-important connection during those earlier near-encounters.

Jeff and I didn’t find many such points of intersection, though we spent our lives within a couple miles of each other. We did find that we had been in many of the same places, though not necessarily at the same time.

Not that it matters. Or maybe it does. Maybe it’s not the crossing lines themselves that matter but the time of the actual connection. If we had met before we met, would we have connected? Would we have even liked each other? So many things happened in the years immediately preceding our connection that primed us for that ultimate encounter, a previous meeting might have passed unnoticed.

It’s sort of the same thing with these women. If we had talked at Thanksgiving, would things have been different? Would they not have wanted me to work with them? Would the job be working out as well as it is? One of the things that helps all of us, I think, is the novelty. Those two spend so much time together, that a third person adds a bit of spice (or at least a bit of a change), especially now, when the vulnerable are still mostly isolated. If we’d met before, perhaps we would have lost the novelty factor.

Obviously, despite my new job, I am still spending too much time alone, too much time in my head thinking thoughts that have no value other than to keep my mental mill working.

Luckily, I am meeting some friends for a picnic in a little while, which will give me more — and different — grist for my mill. All social distancing and mask wearing guidelines are supposed to be followed, of course, though how one eats wearing a mask, I don’t know. See? Already something new to think about!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Happy Hamburger Day

National Hamburger Day isn’t until tomorrow, though some sites I Googled suggested that it was yesterday, so today appears to be a suitable time to celebrate.

I wouldn’t even have known about this holiday except that I was gifted with some ground beef. At first it seemed like an odd gift, but The Bob has changed things so that valuable gift items are not trinkets and electronics but toilet paper and tissues and bleach, all of which had been sent to me, all of which were welcome gifts. And to that list, now is added hamburger.

It was only a chance remark from the giver who said “Happy Hamburger Day” in response to my thanks that made me check to see if there was such a day. I thought the remark was simply a made-up excuse to send me a valuable present. (Admittedly, vegans and vegetarians might not agree about the value, but then, I am an omnivore.) And sure enough, there really is a hamburger day!

It’s interesting to me that only in this time of The Bob would such a present be feasible. It was delivered to my door from the local grocery store, and the only reason the store delivered is because they’re trying to keep us older folks at home as much as possible.

Even more interesting to me is that I’m forgetting there is a crisis out there. I am quite content immersing myself in the world of the Wheel of Time without the conflicting desires that so often pull at me — spending time with people or spending time alone. Going out and doing something or staying home with a book. Being sociable and getting together to play a game or indulging myself and not playing. Trying to find meaning in my new post-Jeff, post-grief, post-move life or accepting whatever meaning there is in simply being me.

I am aware of the crisis to the extent that on the rare occasions when I do go into a store, I wear a mask out of courtesy, but not to the point of contemplating its purpose. And horrors! I do hug people — on purpose — though I let them initiate the contact. Well, except once when it was my decision. I saw a good friend at the store the other day. We stopped six feet away. “We can’t touch,” she said. “I don’t care,” I said. She laughed and then we rushed toward each other. And oh, did that feel good! Odd to think that such a simple human act borders on the seditious, but to be honest, being rebellious in such a way felt good, too.

I must admit that beyond those few brief occasions of welcome touches, I love the distancing that keeps people from crowding me in stores. I don’t like being squished between people in line at the best of times, so I hope the stores will keep the six-foot markers long after this crisis has been forgotten by everyone, not just me.

I am getting far from the point of this article which is . . . hmm. I don’t remember. Hamburger day? Gifts? The benefits of The Bob? Maybe there isn’t a point except a reminder to enjoy the day. With or without a hamburger.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Yay! Back to Isolation!

I am so lost in time that I have no idea what day it is. I thought it was Tuesday. Then I reminded myself it was Wednesday. Then I decided it was still several days until Thursday when — perhaps — the garage construction workers will return.

It turns out this is Tuesday, after all. At least, I think it is.

I don’t really need to worry about time since one day is much like the one before and the one before that and probably tomorrow and many tomorrows to come, but I have to be careful to drive my car occasionally. In the winter, I can get by with driving every ten days, but when the temperatures hit the nineties, the ethanol in the gas dries out and bad gas ruins the hoses, so I have to drive about every five days. When the garage is finished, I should be able to fudge a little on driving since I won’t have to deal with the hot sun beating up my car, but meantime, I have to count the days between trips around town.

Today was a driving day, but I should have stayed home. Although I do believe that The Bob does not merit all the damage caused by closing the economy, I am still careful to maintain a safe distance from people. It’s not just because of The Bob, which isn’t a problem here, but because so many people are sick from various other ailments, and because . . . because I want to and now I have an excuse for not getting too close to strangers.

Unfortunately, this was not a good day for staying away from folks.

I limped my way into one store using my trekking pole for a cane, and a woman held the inner door for me. I stopped a few feet from her, but she continued to hold. What weird times we live in when a kind gesture becomes . . . obnoxious. I finally said, “Just go.” Then the whole Bob thing must have dawned on her because she gave me a sheepish smile and hurried away.

When I left the store, a scruffy fellow came up to me to talk about my VW Bug. He got so close I had to hold him off with my pole. He too gave a sheepish smile, but remained standing just outside the pole’s four-foot range.

Then, as I was leaving the parking lot, a car came charging out of the Dairy Queen drive thru and barely stopped in time to keep from hitting me.

Needless to say, I was glad to get safely back to the cocoon of my isolation.

I had a surprise waiting for me — although my larkspur flowers were all purple last year, this year they are coming up pink and white and purple and lavender. It was hard to get a photo of all the different colors because they seemed to also practice some sort of distancing.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Living in Lockdown

The stay-at-home order won’t be extended in Colorado when it expires in a few days, though there will only be a limited opening of businesses and interactions with people. Social distancing is still to be observed.

But . . . the senior population is still in lockdown, allowed to go out only when absolutely necessary. Apparently, agism is alive and well, especially since in many cases older folks are way more vulnerable to the effects of isolation than they are to any pathogen. Still, I’ll go along with the order since it doesn’t make much difference to the way I live my life though it is beginning to make me feel imprisoned.

There’s been no indication of when the library will reopen, and who knows — since I’m one of the locked-down seniors, they might not even let me in when it does open for business again. Social distancing, you know. I still have a couple of weeks’ worth of emergency books left, and I can extend that a bit by watching the DVDs I borrowed from a friend months ago, and then . . . who knows. It’s up to the vagaries of bureaucrats who seem to think we all live in big cities rather than in relatively unpopulated and impoverished counties as some of us do.

A ludicrous aspect of this situation are the emails I keep getting from various businesses, such as insurance companies and utilities, telling me they have my best interests at heart. Not enough to lower prices, of course, just enough to annoy and mystify me. For example, I’ve had appliance insurance for the past year that covered all the major appliances including my washer, and the company is changing over to a new policy that only covers the furnace, water heater, range, and air conditioner. My washer is acting up, and even though the new policy doesn’t go into effect for another week or so, they won’t send anyone out to fix my washer. Apparently, although I’ve been paying the premium, they’d already cancelled the original insurance without telling me.

And my internet provider sent an email saying that to ensure the safety of their customers, they will continue to do critical repairs, but added, “we’ve modified our processes so our technicians can complete exterior work as usual, while relying on our customers to complete interior work.” What the heck? We have to do our own repairs?

On a lighter note (perhaps), the garden frog I’d ordered months ago came in today. Although the statue photographed for the catalog looked happy, this one looks sad or at least pensive. Considering there is not yet a garden for the poor thing, no wonder it doesn’t seem all that pleased to be here.

But where there are plants, there’s hope, and I do have some plants in the ground, including a few lilacs that had to be moved when the garage foundation was put in.

It’s gloomy and windy today, but there is a 50% chance of rain, which would be nice. Not just for my incipient garden, but for a change.

And oh, do I need a change! I think I’ll brave the wind and go out for a short walk. Maybe the activity will blow away some of the feelings of isolation and imprisonment.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.



There are some words being bandied about lately that I am getting tired of hearing. Like “essential.” They tell us that only “essential” businesses are allowed open, but some of those essential businesses are not essential to all of us. Like liquor stores or recreational pot shops.

We’re also told only to go out to do essential errands, and to buy only essential items. Despite these constant warnings, I still pretty much live the way I always do because I always only do essential errands, always only buy essential items. When one lives as austere a life as I do, when everything has been pared down to the basics, everything is essential. For example, today I went out and bought groceries. It is essential that I drive once a week to keep my ancient bug going, and today was the day, so went and got a few dollars’ worth of gas, which was essential so that I could get to the store where I bought such essential items as fruits, vegetables, as well as a bit of meat and cheese.


Some things are essential for good mental health, such as being with friends (even for those of us with hermit tendencies), but oh, no — that sort of essential thing is not allowed.

So, apparently, some essential things are not essential, and some non-essentials are essential. What a fiasco.

Another term I’m getting tired of is “social distancing.” It’s not the act that bothers me, but the term. In fact, I always prefer strangers — and sometimes even non-strangers — to keep their distance.

Today, when I entered the store, a young woman and her small daughter were nearing the entrance about the same time I was. Since she wasn’t stopping her forward rush, I paused six feet way from them so she could go on, but then she stopped and told me to go ahead. So I did. But instead of waiting until I was inside, both she and her daughter crowded me and went through at the same time. What was the point of that? Even if we weren’t dealing with the current regulations, it would have been rude.

Luckily, I won’t have to deal with such things for another week when it is again time to drive and get my “essential” errands done.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

“The Bob” Commentary

Social distancing might be holding in the over-60 population, at least to an extent, but it does not seem to concern the younger folk. Today I’ve seen more groups walking than I have in the year I’ve been here. I don’t know if that’s been the case all along since I’ve stayed inside babying my knee, but today I thought I should challenge myself, so I went outside for a short walk. (If 300 steps can be considered a walk.) I might have stayed out longer, but in that short time, one single walker and two closely-packed trios passed me. In all cases, I crossed the street to get away from them, but still, there they were.

Making matter worse, one of the guys horked up a wad of mucus in front of my house. Really? Really? I don’t understand people, and they sure as heck don’t understand health safeguards.

Needless to say, I took I wide berth around that mess, and came back inside where I am safe. (Just because I think there’s way too much hype over The Bob  doesn’t mean I don’t take precautions. In fact, I take these same precautions when it comes to any flu or other contagious disease. And I might as well admit it, I always cross the street to avoid people when I’m out walking unless I know them — it’s a leftover safety measure from when I lived in a big city.)

There are many loopholes in this stay-at-home order. Except for the closures — places where people obviously can’t go — they can go anywhere and do anything as long as they say they are taking a walk or getting essential items. Some people — couples and families — are going en masse to the stores that are open more as a recreational thing than because they really need the merchandise. And the early shopping hours for seniors are a joke — so many congregate outside the doors of places like Walmart, waiting to get in, that it seems to create more of a problem than it solves.

So why issue stay-at-home orders when it’s so easy to get around them? Well, I do know one reason — by establishing their locale as a scene of disaster, the local governments are positioning themselves for federal relief funds. But for the rest, who knows. There is much going on that we are not privy to.

Speaking of privy (chuckling at my wit here), I did some research on the toilet paper shortage.

I don’t know why no one is admitting that a percentage of our bathroom tissue is imported from China, but it is. (A Walmart employee told me that’s where their store brand comes from.) According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity: The top exporters of toilet paper are China ($2.84B), Germany ($2.78B), Japan ($1.67B), Poland ($1.4B) and Italy ($1.26B). The top importers are the United States ($2.29B), Germany ($1.79B), China ($1.43B), France ($1.33B) and the United Kingdom ($1.26B). So, as you can see — if you curtail the imports, there is a definite shortage. Even if the shortfall is only 10%, that shortfall soon escalates into a massive shortage as people try to stay ahead of their needs.

I’m shaking my head at myself. I had no intention of ever even mentioning any aspect of this current medical situation in my daily blog posts (190 days in a row as of today), but it is there. And it is hard to ignore.

Of course, if the guys would come and build my garage, I’d have something more exciting to write about. Meantime, there is just me, my computer, and vast numbers of articles and commentaries about The Bob flooding the internet streams. And now, with this blog, there is one more.

In case you’re sick of all this, here’s something to brighten your life: today is National Crayon Day. Happy coloring!


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.


Social Distancing

How odd to be told to do what I have always had a tendency to do — practice social distancing. For others, this might be a bad thing, but it plays right into my psyche. For the past year, I have been attending many social activities, meeting people, enjoying having friends and being part of a community, which has been great, but I like this lifestyle, too. It fits well.

Odder, too, to think that the whole country is now living my life. Staying away from people who are sick. Staying home when I am sick or even just have the faintest tickle in my throat or even just because. Washing my hands. Oh, and stocking up and hoarding. I bought eight cans of tuna!!! I was only going to get one package of four cans, but I like two kinds — the white albacore and the chunk light — so I got both. But that was about it. I didn’t need anything else, and anyway, I have no place to store it. (I’ve designated one very narrow cupboard in my kitchen for a “pantry.”)

Normally, I’d be doing a lot of walking since that’s a good solitary activity, but it’s been cold and gloomy here, which doesn’t do much to motivate me, but oddly, the bulbs in my yard seem to like it. Several of them are popping up, which makes me feel good. I should walk anyway, despite the gloom, but I tweaked my knee when I was sleeping so I’ve been babying it. (Isn’t that the silliest thing? I fell splat on the ground, and didn’t even get a bruise. I turn over in bed and hurt my knee. Sheesh. That’s the part of growing older — or one of the parts — I can do without.)

So, what am I doing in my exile? What I always do. Fix what needs fixing — in this case, replacing the cord in one of my Roman shades. Read what is available to read. If I get bored, I have hundreds of movies to watch, but mostly, I’ve been playing on the internet.

I’ve been staying away from FB — there’s not much good that can come of all the virus talk, and there’s not much else going on except for the usual political outrage — which gives me plenty of time for other things, like making mandalas with the online mandala maker I found. Since the purpose of mandalas (besides beauty and symmetry) are to transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to aid in healing, it seems the perfect pursuit for this particular time. I wouldn’t mind being more enlightened, and the world can use some healing.

I hope you’re taking care of yourself and that you’re enjoying a quieter time.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.